Buffalo Sabres GM outlines rebuilding plan for last-place team
Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara (33) and Buffalo Sabres' Matt D'Agostini (27) battle along the boards during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, April 12, 2014. (AP / Michael Dwyer)
John Wawrow, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, April 15, 2014 9:37PM EDT
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Tim Murray's vision of rebuilding the Buffalo Sabres involves several things.
And the rookie general manager doesn't expect it will take long to accomplish.
Murray outlined his intentions Tuesday, two days after the Sabres closed one of the worst and most tumultuous seasons in their 44-year history.
Murray was direct in calling the Sabres' last-place finish "unacceptable."
And he was blunt in laying the blame on everyone from management, to the coaching staff and on down to his players.
"A lot of nights it was hard to watch," Murray said. "A lot of nights we competed hard and just didn't have enough talent to put us over the top. But other nights, it wasn't pretty."
Murray also made a point of steering clear of using the word "suffering" as his predecessor, Darcy Regier, had used several times a year earlier.
Regier, who was fired in November, was criticized for suggesting fans might have to suffer through a lengthy rebuilding process for a team hasn't won a playoff series since 2007.
Murray interrupted a question at the mere mention of Regier and suffering.
"I wasn't here. I'm not using that word," he said. "This is not going to be a five-year rebuild, not for me anyway. That's not what I want."
That doesn't mean he expects the turnaround to be immediate.
"When you tear it down, it doesn't happen overnight," Murray said. "I want to rebuild here properly, which takes time. But it doesn't have to take years."
Murray is essentially starting from scratch after spending the past two months purging much of what was left of the team's veteran core.
Buffalo (21-51-10) set a post-NHL-expansion-era low by scoring 150 goals and a franchise record for losses.
The team's front office also underwent an overhaul with coach Ron Rolston fired along with Regier. Pat LaFontaine then abruptly stepped down as president of hockey operations in March, 3 1/2 months after taking over.
That leaves Murray in charge and Ted Nolan staying on as coach after signing a three-year contract extension last month.
The first step of the rebuilding process will start in the draft in June in Philadelphia, where the Sabres will hold the No. 2 pick after losing out on the No. 1 pick to Florida in the NHL draft lottery Tuesday night.
It was yet another loss for Sabres this season, after they entered the night with the best shot at getting the No. 1 pick.
The result dashed Murray's hopes that the Sabres' fortunes might be changing.
"I want to win the lottery," Murray said, before travelling to attend the lottery in Toronto. "I want to win something here."
The Sabres still have the potential of having three first-round picks: their own and two conditional picks acquired in trades with the New York Islanders and St. Louis Blues.
The Islanders, who have the No. 5 pick, have until June 1 to determine whether to give up their first-rounder this year or next year. The Sabres would land the Blues' first-round pick if St. Louis reaches the Western Conference final.
On other issues, Murray called it "a very good possibility" that the Sabres will part ways with underperforming forward Ville Leino by buying out the three remaining years of his contract in June.
A series of injuries and lack of consistency have led to Leino being a major disappointment in Buffalo since signing a six-year, $27-million contract three years ago.
He's managed just 10 goals and 46 points in 137 games with the Sabres.
Murray termed the chances of Buffalo using its second and final contract buyout option as being less than 50 per cent.
Murray expects to be active in free agency this summer with an eye on targeting veterans to add experienced on-ice depth and provide leadership on what will remain a young roster.
On the injury front, Murray said goalie Matt Hackett will likely require surgery after hurting his right knee in a 4-1 loss at Boston on Sunday. Newly acquired goalie Michal Neuvirth could require surgery to repair a nagging hip injury that forced him to miss the final month.